Natalie Brown’s debut novel The Lovebird convinces me of one thing: you don’t have to like the main character to love a book. Brown writes a book filled with charming, complex characters that dwell in a world of sights and smells that they bumble through in a variety of hapless ways. The characters are self-involved and selfish, idealistic and clueless, yet they are also kind and loving, deeply caring and hopeful. Brown’s writing touches on the sublime in her descriptions of feelings, dreams and the physical world in which her characters exist.
The Lovebird is a coming of age story about a hopelessly naïve and passionate college student, Margie Fitzgerald. The minute Margie meets her Latin professor, Simon, the reader knows she is on a dangerous path. Margie is drawn to wounded creatures, and as the story unfolds it is clear that her empathy is one of her great strengths but also her biggest weakness. Margie connects with people who, like her, are missing something in their lives, searching for that lost piece, who feel always alone. She is drawn into a world of animal rights activism by her need to protect, be accepted and loved. These same qualities lead her to act in ways that will make the reader cringe at points throughout the book.
While reading the novel, I found myself shaking my head at Margie’s naiveté and idealism. I understood the passion that led her into a variety of questionable relationships and activities, but I found myself wondering how a character that could be so introspective and mature be at the same time completely self-involved and clueless. Then I thought about myself as a college freshman: convinced that I had an utter and complete grasp on the world. That’s the charm of youth; you feel like you can easily accomplish everything you want, because you get “it”.
Coming of age tales are a wonderful reminder that what we learn as we grow is not just more knowledge of the world, but the realization that we know very little about ourselves and the world around us. Margie’s story is a delightful and thought-provoking account of that very idea.
Brown’s writing is deep, complex and full of impressive imagery. Smells are used in the novel as touchstones for memories, people and places. An observant reader will notice that Margie’s reaction to smells foretell what her relationship to whatever she is smelling will become. Instead of making the story predictable, these insights lend the book a sense of nostalgia and a haze of emotion that makes Margie’s journey captivating.
Without giving too much about the novel away, I will say that as Margie finds herself in places she never expected while her character grows in realistic and poignant ways. Even as I was exasperated by her actions, I understood her emotions, as desire to find a true home and family are genuinely moving and relatable.
For a debut novel, I was absolutely dazzled by Brown’s writing. I highly recommend this book. The Lovebird is lovely, charming and full of life and frustration. Brown’s debut novel comes out today, June 18th. Get your copy here.